How to Deal with a Grown-Up Family
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2012 18 Sep
Children never really grow up. Or so it seems. While they certainly don’t need our full and complete attention, and have moved away emotionally and physically, adult kids remain “children.”
As an individual who not only is a grown “child,” but has grown children as well, I’m qualified to talk about the challenges from both sides of the spectrum. I have two grown, married sons, with their own children (my grandchildren) and am a one of five grown children, relating to them as well as my aging father.
All of this creates unique challenges. All of them—and I mean all of them—have their own lifestyle, opinions and points of view. With strong thoughts and feelings of their own, each place of intersection can be a point of tension.
In this “in-between” place, where I am relating to my adult siblings, their children as well as my own children, and their children, there are many opportunities for misunderstanding, miscommunication, indirect communication as well as hurtful comments.
Sadly, feelings get hurt. Opinions get rigidified. Factions erupt and divisions seem to flourish. Once close relationships become distanced. Attachments that once were such an important part of our lives, now are strained. This can create undue sadness and rifts.
Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be this way. Relationships to aging parents can be cultivated to be even more vital than when we were young. Relationships with grown siblings can be fostered to be even more vibrant than the hierarchy in which we were raised. Relationships with our grown children can take on a new quality where they have developed their own lives, their own values and their own life direction.
However, this will take work. Are you ready? Does this interest you? Let’s begin by considering a few ideas we must keep in mind when it comes to aging parents, adults siblings as well as adult children.
One, it’s not all about you. While you may have felt quite important as a child, or perhaps enjoyed a positive position with your siblings, or undoubtedly you enjoyed a positive relationship with your children, things have changed. Your parents have their own lives, your siblings have developed their own lifestyle, perhaps quite different from yours, and your children are carving their own path. Your opinions and perceptions are no longer central, if even they once were. Give up any illusions that you know it all.
Two, tolerance will serve you well. Given all the different personalities, all the different perspectives, all the different points of view and preferences, you must ‘go with the flow.’ This will be tested again and again. You must learn to accept differences that will undoubtedly arise.
Scripture offers us wise counsel: “Be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing to one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). It is very tempting, in family functioning, to see your point of view as the right one. It’s tempting to think your way is best, your position is right. Don’t go there. Let your behavior be marked by gentleness and humility.
Three, appreciate differences. Assuming you want to get along with everyone, you will need to take note of the differences and smile. Your parents make choices that don’t make sense to you. But, it’s their lives. Your siblings make choices that confound you—it’s okay. Allow for differences. Finally, your children will make choices that wouldn’t meet your approval. It’s okay. It’s not all about you. They will figure it out and in fact need permission and acceptance as they struggle to do so.
Four, remember the importance of relationship. Rigid points of view, hard lines and strong opinions are divisive. Once you draw emotional lines, they are hard to erase. Hurt feelings can be hard to heal, though humility is your most powerful tool in keeping relationships strong. Remember that your ultimate goal is to have a relationship with your parents, siblings and children. Relationships are built on acceptance, in spite of feelings that become ruffled.
Finally, make choices about relationships. There may be relationships that are so contentious that you will need to practice detachment. You can be in relationship without being too close. You can dance from a distance. You can choose to be close to certain people, while being a bit more detached from others. Step back, maintain perspective and choose thoughtfully.
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Publication date: September 18, 2012